A call threatening a bomb at the Hay River Esso service station turned out to be a false alarm last week.
According to the Hay River RCMP, the threat was received by the business just before noon on Nov. 29.
After a thorough search, RCMP said no explosive device was found and expressed confidence the area was safe in an announcement at about 2:20 p.m.
“We take all complaints of threats very seriously and will continue to conduct a thorough investigation,” stated RCMP spokesperson Const. Matt Halstead in a news release the afternoon of Nov. 29. “To date, we are confident there is no imminent risk to the public in relation to the threat received.”
During the incident, four nearby schools were placed on lockdown.
In comments to The Hub later in the week, Halstead confirmed it was a telephone threat.
“It was made to the staff. It didn’t come to us,” he said. “It went to the staff at the Esso and then they phoned us.”
The constable also said it was a male caller.
“We haven’t determined the identity or anything like that,” he said. “We do have a phone number, so we’re trying to look into that and see if it’s registered to anyone or what kind of phone service it is.”
However, he said that, with Internet phoning, a person can make it look like a telephone number is anywhere in the world.
“That’s certainly a challenge for us,” he said.
Halstead said the nature of the threat was that there was an explosive on the premises.
“There’s a bit more to it that I can’t really go into specifics but that there was an explosive device somewhere and that it was primed to go off,” he said.
As of last week, the RCMP did not know why the Esso was the target of the threat.
“It’s definitely something that we’re looking into but at this point in the investigation there’s nothing that jumps out and says why the Esso was targeted and we don’t have any indication of a disgruntled worker or anything like that right now,” said Halstead.
The constable said the RCMP will be using every available resource in its investigation.
“Obviously, the fact that there was no bomb was a good thing but the threats themselves are very disruptive,” he said. “The schools were on lockdown for a long period of time. People were evacuated from their homes. We’re taking it very seriously, even in the absence of there being an explosive device.”
During the threat, Highway 2 in front of Aurora Ford and Esso was shut down, along with Veterans Road. The Hay River Fire Department went door-to-door in Rowe’s Trailer Court advising people of the situation.
“So that area was closed off and we asked people to leave basically because of the bomb threat, and that was sort of the area of the cordon,” said Halstead.
Community residents were asked to stay away from the general area near the Esso gas station during the investigation.
A bomb threat in Hay River is extremely unusual.
Fire Chief Ross Potter can recall two in the 1980s or 1990s.
“I’m not sure what year the bomb scare was at the courthouse but there was a bomb scare at the courthouse at one time,” he said, adding there was also a bomb scare involving a business.
“It’s very rare,” said Potter.
During last week’s bomb scare, he said the fire department was basically involved in traffic control.
However, members of the department were also standing by just in case.
“We had three trucks with at least a minimum of two personnel per truck out at the scene and we had a back-up crew both for medical and fire at the fire hall waiting to see if anything happened,” said Potter, who also said the incident was a good test of the community’s emergency measures.
Halstead said the RCMP appreciates the co-operation from the community during the incident.
“Everybody was really good,” he said. “We had some concerned parents showing up at the schools, which is understandable but I was able to speak with them and kind of explain the reason for (the lockdown). I think people were frustrated that they could still drive to the school but they couldn’t get the kids. That was sort of the procedure that had been put in place. So we were able to address that with them.”
Like Potter, Halstead said the incident was an excellent test of existing emergency procedures.